Hypomania is not an illness in itself, but rather mood state that experienced in people living with Bipolar Disorder variants. The difference between hypomania and the more commonly known state of mania is the severity of symptoms associated these states. In our lives, this translates to mania involving psychotic symptomology – hearing voices, severe delusions, extreme loss of touch with reality, and of course, this leads to extreme impairment in daily functionality, social relationships, and physical safety; hospitalization is required. Hypomania contains all the hallmarks of mania, minus the psychotic symptoms, but to a lesser degree; if any damage is done to social and work environments it is not of the intensity that would see you in a psych facility as a result. (source)
I promise we are nearly done with the medical jargon; bear with me a little longer. Hypomanic/Manic experiences are defined in two separate groups – euphoric vs dysphoric. Euphoric hypomania involves an extreme sense of wellness, connection, and understanding of the world, impulsiveness, increased confidence in your abilities and creativity, flights of ideas, increased (and sometimes inappropriate) social enjoyment, a decreased need for sleep and increased energy. Whilst dysphoric hypomania contains extreme irritability, a pervasive sense of unease, a decreased need for sleep, excessive energy, and impulsiveness. In short, euphoric hypomania feels like being the “cat’s pajamas” whilst dysphoric hypomania feels like a week in Satan’s colon.
I, myself, come from a long line of the disordered and live with Bipolar II Disorder among other mental illnesses. I am one of the unlucky assholes who spends most of her hypomanic states in the aforementioned colon. When in this state I am a raging bitch. People want too much of me, people breathe too loud, people drive too slow. Needless to say, this state is not conducive to good parenting, and in fact, the best parenting strategy I have during these episodes is to lessen the time I spend with my family. I confine myself to my room or leave the house to go bushwalking. As with euphoric hypomania, I have a drive towards goal-related activities, and so I am a frenzy of mowing yards, decluttering, cleaning under beds and washing walls. But the despair of being full of such vibrating rage leaves me full of self-loathing and longing for escape, such means for me being THC or self-harm. I have battled with self-harm for years, and the volatile mixture of self-loathing and high impulsivity can see me lose months of progress in this brand of hypomanic episode.
On the flipside of this coin is the pure wonder of euphoric hypomania, and oh how I feel for those who never get to ride this tiger. I awaken with energy and love brimming through my veins, my feet dance through the day, songs and laughter bubble from my throat and my synapses are on fire with creativity. I am the life of the party, the “fun mum” of stories, jokes, and impromptu adventures. Activities that are usually difficult for me are nothing more than skills I can master: from a woman who clams up and cannot answer phone calls to the queen of telecommunications. Hours upon hours spent creating art as creativity pours from me. Life is good, and oh if only I could live like this forever! Though it must be acknowledged that under the influence of hypomania my disinhibition and impulsivity can get the better of me – reckless spending that seemed so valid at the time, telling others waaaaay too much about myself and inappropriate conversations with people whom I know better than to divulge to.
But as we all know,” what goes up, must come down.” And there is a price to pay for all the frenzied activity with so little rest and so little food, for shopping splurges, for the energy regardless of whether it positive or negative. The server hands me the bill and I must pay, there is no skipping out on the check in this restaurant. And so I sleep as if I am going to make up for all the hours missed, I cancel plans, accept household help, and try to cocoon myself in a soothing nest. If I am lucky, this is as far as I will fall back to earth. If I am unlucky, and the longer I spend in a hypomanic episode the greater the chances, I plummet down further, and “Oh look, I can see Satan’s asshole from here.” Here I am in the devastation and wasteland of depression.
And so I have checks and balances in place to try and keep me on the straight and narrow. I continue to take my medication. I accept the observations and insights of my behavior from my family. I willingly give up my credit card to my partner. I am honest with my psych team and increase appointments. I let others remind me to eat, bathe, and rest. And when not episodic, I encourage my friends and family to educate themselves on Bipolar, and how to see the signs of an episode coming on for what they are. It took a while for my partner to be able to distinguish my frantic cleaning frenzies as a manifestation of my Bipolar, rather than me willingly burning myself into the ground.
It is a common story to hear from fellow Bipolar travelers, that they have at some point forgone medication in order to experience that high, the exhilaration of riding the tiger. I am not one of those people, and this likely because my experience of Bipolar is dominated by depressions with hypomania usually the hideous, angry kind. I know the benefit of the various medications I take, for myself and for my family. Euphoric hypomanias are the white whale of my existence, and I try to enjoy them when they visit. But oh when they are gone, or when I am trudging through the land of the dead, how I miss that gold through my veins.
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